Visualizing Corsi and the Canucks

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In the interest of putting something up on the old blag today and distract from the fact that Canucks fans are yet again in the heat of some silly non-hockey discussion, I thought it might be fun to take a quick look similar to a visual found at mc79hockey’s blog that dealt with team Corsi rates when players are on the ice with or without others.

It’s a mostly informational thing. Tim Bonnar at Arctic Ice Hockey pointed out that the Winnipeg Jets are a pretty good team when their top players are on, and they’re a mostly bad team when their top players are not on. mc79 visualized this by mocking up a graph exploring how the most-used forwards, in order, did with the most-used defencemen. I’ve made one for the Canucks below.

This chart here is pretty simple. The left-most column is Canucks forwards, sorted in 5-on-5 TOI/60 found over at Extra Skater, and defencemen are sorted along the top the same way from most-used to least-used. The numbers are the Corsi percentages* of the forward with the corresponding defencemen found at Hockey Analysis, and colour-coded red when the Corsi is above 55%, orange when it’s better than 50%, or blue when below 50%:

* – [Corsi percentage is the rate of all attempted shots that were taken by the player’s team when he’s on the ice. If Andrew Alberts is on the ice for 6 shots for and 12 shots against, his Corsi percentage would be calculated as 6 / ( 6 + 12 ) = 33.3%. Corsi percentages have shown to correlate with time on attack.]

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Per mc79:

If we assume that the coach uses his best players the most, we would expect that the Corsi% for when the most heavily used defenceman and the most heavily used forward are on the ice to be the highest on the team, barring something really unusual – a defenceman who plays exclusively in the defensive zone or something. … If my theory’s right, things should get worse as we move from more frequently used to less frequently used players.

It looks like this does hold up. The below 50% combinations are generally to the least used forwards on the team. Brad Richardson can be somewhat excused because his role is mostly defensive and thus shouldn’t expect to put up very high Corsi numbers. Zack Kassian follows the rule almost perfectly, generating the best Corsi numbers with the most-used defenceman (Bieksa) and the worst with the least-used (Stanton).

The exceptions to the rule appear to be Alex Burrows and Ryan Kesler. Burrows does very well with defensive groupings despite his limited time with the twins this season. (He actually has a higher Corsi when he’s away from the Sedins this year, thanks to that excellent run on his line with Mike Santorelli and Chris Higgins). While Kesler gets a lot of minutes, he’s not above 55% with any defensive partner.

The Jets had six forwards that had a 50%+ Corsi with the top two defencemen, while the Canucks have seven. The difference between the two looks to be on defence. It’s interesting, salary cap-wise, that the Canucks have four medium-to-expensively priced four defencemen, but the cheap bottom-end has been excellent. Chris Tanev was an undrafted free agent signed at the end of the 2009-2010 season. A little over three years later, he’s playing on the top defensive pairing with Dan Hamhuis and is still a few days away from turning 24. I think that’s a progression nobody could have envisioned, but some injuries in the 2011 season meant he got some looks, and basically earned himself a full-time NHL job with his play that year. He’s thrived under John Tortorella, as Thom Drance noted last week.

It would be fun to see more of these, and if they could be automatically generated we could see how other top forward/defencemen combinations do. Bonnar’s original theory does seem to hold up though: you’d take Evander Kane and Dustin Byfuglien on the ice and put them up against any forward/defence tandem the Canucks have and they’d handle themselves nicely. The Canucks have much better possession numbers, and win totals, than Winnipeg mostly because a little bit more forward depth and a lot more defensive depth, not necessarily by who is separating themselves at the top of the lineup.